CFOs believe finance technology will help them unlock new levels of opportunity

Sage CFO 3.0 reveals: The crisis demands that CFOs find ways to ensure the business is sustainable.

On 15 September, CFO South Africa hosted a webinar in which Sage Africa & Middle East vice president, Medium Business, Gerhard Hartman and Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of research firm World Wide Worx, explored the main themes from Sage’s recent CFO 3.0 research study. 

Introducing the research, Arthur explained that Sage conducted a survey of 311 senior financial decision makers, primarily CFOs. “We put a range of questions to them in terms of their response to Covid-19, but also generally their use of technology, the cloud and what technologies in particular had a role in evolving their role in the organisation.” 

He added that there were three broad areas that Sage uncovered and demystified:

  1. The first was looking at the CFO’s evolving role. How that role would be changing as a result of the digitisation of industries and the extent to which it has had an impact on their organisations and themselves.
  2. The second was the question “What is keeping you awake at night?” and the flipside “How do you manage uncertainty in times like this, how do business priorities change? How do you ensure continued revenue growth?” 
  3. The third area was managing risk and compliance, but in the context of this research how technology in particular has had an impact on that role. 
  4. Lastly: “Are you riding the tech wave? How important are new technologies and are you adopting those?”

“Broadly, the survey uncovered a massive shift in the role of senior financial decision makers as drivers of strategic change and the extent to which they have become visionaries of the future, rather than only looking back at the past,” Arthur said. 

How to adapt

He then handed over to Gerhard, who said that digital transformation is something that a lot of businesses have always talked about or aspired to. “If we look at the research that Sage has done, we can see that companies that invested in technologies were already geared to perform during the pandemic.” 

However, he said that the pandemic has created a “spark”, because it gave finance leaders and CFOs a chance to think about how they can adapt when faced with challenges. “What do we need to put in place in our strategy to make sure we remain relevant?” 

Gerhard used examples from the manufacturing industry to explain the results. “They were in total shutdown and all of a sudden you have a disconnect between running your business and running your workshop, which you’ve never had before. How do you link the two?” 

He explained that they started looking at technology platforms that have remote sessions to make sure critical business functions are still running. “When they adopted that technology, you can see the change in the workforce.” 

He added that manufacturing companies also have a workforce that needs to be in the factory, which was difficult with lockdown regulations. “CFOs had to ask themselves how they can embrace technology there? Are there processes within their companies they can streamline better when it comes to manufacturing products? Because they’re in lockdown, they can’t sell what they sold before. They have to think how they can reinvent their companies and start selling, for example, protective equipment. We have examples in that industry of how quickly companies evolved to address a need in the market.” 

Similarly, in the healthcare industry, hospitals needed to gear up for an influx of patients that could potentially be infected with Covid-19 versus normal cases. 

Being left behind

Where CFOs are reluctant to embrace technology, Arthur explained that they will be left behind. “89 percent are welcoming automation because it makes them that much more efficient. This is because it allows them to focus on business objectives rather than just routine tasks day to day.” 

A further 73 percent say organisations are ready for more automation. “This is exciting because it means that three quarters of CFOs are saying they’ve seen how well it works and they want more,” he said. 

He explained that the CFOs who are reluctant to welcome automation are going to be caught behind the curve. “They’ll be victims of history, rather than riding the wave of history.”

Taking the leap

Gerhard said that, when a CFO or finance leader goes on this journey, it’s the start of the journey. “Some are reluctant and some are ready to go, but they need to make that decision to say ‘I want to progress’.” 

He explained that it means they need to say there’s change that needs to happen. “As a financial leader, I firmly believe that sits with the CFO as well as the CIO. But I also think it’s important that CFOs ask themselves how they can be more efficient, what they can do to add more value, and whether it’s to their customers or their supply chain.” 

He added that there are four questions CFOs can ask themselves as a financial leaders:

  1. What business problems are you trying to solve?
  2. What specific technology do you need to solve that problem?
  3. Do you have current technology that you can leverage and not just bring in new tech?
  4. What are the new technologies that are available for future looking? 

CFO 3.0

Arthur explained that this changing role of the CFO and leveraging technology is the key research finding of CFO 3.0. “The role is evolving at a significant pace. The crisis demands that they find ways of ensuring that the business is sustainable.”

He added that business continuity is not just a question of carrying on collecting data, it’s what you do with that data in order to ensure that continuity into the future. “That’s why it’s significant that CFOs are playing a role in managing uncertainty, risk and compliance. It’s that uncertainty that is addressed by the use of technology.” 

According to the research, CFOs are confident that finance technology is going to help them unlock new levels of opportunity that haven’t been tapped in the past. “Automation assisting with efficiency is just one part of the equation. What comes next is when they leverage technologies like AI that will help them analyse data on the fly to tell them what they ought to be doing next, not necessarily to instruct them, but rather to guide them and to help them make those decisions.”